Theatre Royal: Creating an affair to remember
- Credit: Archant
The Graduate was one of the seminal films of the 60s. David Henshall sees how Bury Theatre Workshop brought Mrs Robinson across the Atlantic
You are a young girl in love for the first time with a boy about the same age and then one day he admits that, before he took up with you, he had an affair with your mother. How do you reconcile yourself to something like this? Can you forgive and, rather more importantly, forget what has gone on before?
That is at the heart of The Graduate, the story that has been adapted for the stage from the award-winning movie and the original novel by Charles Webb. But there are one or two big differences from the film. For a start, Terry Johnson’s version moves the action into the UK; he has changed the mood from comedy-drama to broad British farce in places and there’s no Simon and Garfunkel music.
It certainly seems to work because Johnson’s variation on Benjamin Braddock’s fling with Mrs Robinson has been a major theatrical hit in the West End and on Broadway. Big names queued up to play the attractive mother who fancies the college-boy son of family friends. Kathleen Turner, Jerry Hall, Morgan Fairchild and Linda Gray are among those who have revelled in the role.
The Graduate is the choice of Bury Theatre Workshop for their autumn show at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, the week after next and director Steve Andrews is thrilled to bits with his Mrs Robinson. It’s not an easy role to fill because she has got to appear near old enough to be Benjamin’s mother but with the sort of attraction that will spark his amorous interest.
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“Yes, it was that special something we were looking for,” says Andrews. “I had seen Victoria Dry in Dracula, a previous production, and I kind of knew then that she was Mrs Robinson. And with what she did at the audition, she was definitely Mrs Robinson. It was no more difficult than that.”
The question of age difference didn’t seem to worry the movie makers too much. Director Mike Nichols chose Dustin Hoffman who, although short and youthful, was meant be 21 and was 30 at the time; and Ann Bancroft was only six years older. Her daughter Elaine, supposed to be 19, was played by 27-year-old Katharine Ross.
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“Our Benjamin is 20, He’s played by Charlie Easdown, a newcomer who has moved to Bury from Burton-on-Trent and is hugely talented and teaming him with Victoria has worked very well.”
Mrs Robinson is an interesting character beyond her seduction of Benjamin. She was forced to give up college and marry a man she didn’t love when she became pregnant and her affair with Benjamin is her way of recapturing a lost portion of her life. She becomes bitter and shrewish but you can’t help having some sympathy with her situation.
“That’s absolutely correct. One of the points we are trying to bring out is how Mrs Robinson’s history has brought her to where she is at now. It’s a motivating factor. Although it’s not dealt with explicitly in the play it is something we are using in our approach to the piece. Yes, it’s basically a farce, but much more complex than that.
“It’s not just another version of the film. It draws on elements from the novel, which is much more detailed and uses things that were not in the movie. What’s more, he has anglicized it and used the traditional British form of farce to deliver it. It’s a terrific idea.”
It is recognizable as the movie, he says, but Johnson has remoulded it neatly for the theatre. He obviously decided that the film version, such a different medium, would not work on stage and that the book itself did not adapt easily on its own, so he’s used the best of both. “He’s concentrated, superficially at least, on bringing out the humour by pulling it into a comedy structure and giving it a traditional farce set.”
In the film Benjamin spends a lot of time racing long distances back and forth in his little sports car. “This time he hasn’t got a sports car but he still does an awful lot of dashing about. We’ve followed the play’s instructions about the set - it’s minimal but very functional and, as in the great farces of the past, has lots of doors to exit and enter from. It can cope with as many scene changes as necessary and we allow the audience to use its imagination at times.”
Because Benjamin’s affair with Mrs Robinson brings so many people into conflict with each other, it is a play that requires quite a wide range of acting ability. “We spent a lot of time in rehearsals getting right into the characters because the actors need to be able to act not just be funny. Farce is the base line but there is comedy on various levels that requires talent to put over.”
Megan Reynard is Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. She has been acting in plays since primary school and her father is played by Tim Lodge, who recently directed The Tempest for BTW, with David Messer and Claire Powis as Benjamin’s parents. Also appearing are Katie Judge, Paula Sargeant, Susan Hodgeson and Claire Stuart.
Steven Andrews says there are contractual difficulties over using the Simon and Garfunkel music, so his 24-year-old son Lewis is composing some special music for the play.
The Graduate is at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds from October 1 to 5. Tickets: 01284 769505 and theatreroyal.org.